Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Book Review: Dangerous Charade by Elizabeth Means

Title: Dangerous Charade
Author: Elizabeth Means
Release Date: 1 September 2011
Number of pages: 288 pages
Publisher: English Tea Rose
Source: review copy provided by author
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon

Grade: 2 stars

Novellus malus!
Goodreads appetizer: To escape an arranged marriage Gabrielle Broussard flees her home and becomes an undercover investigator with an elite, all-female investigative agency. Her first assignment, as governess at Westford castle to investigate the suspicious death of the Countess of Westford, quickly becomes complicated when she finds herself attracted to her number one suspect. Lord Julian Blackwell is a survivor. After his father's bankruptcy, he becomes a self-made man in Victorian England's booming industrial era. Trapped into a loveless marriage, he has survived the shock of his wife's sudden death. But now he must survive rumors and outright accusations. Hiring a private agency to investigate and prove his innocence seems like a good idea...until desire threatens to compromise both the case and the life of the investigator.
This review was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

My Thoughts: When I read the above blurb I was hooked. I mean Dangerous Charade is a combination of historical romance and Victorian detective story, featuring a female detective, what's not to like? Sadly I wasn't enchanted as I thought I would be.

I quite liked the initial premise, that a ladies' detective agency exists in Victorian England and the key to its success is that its agents are respectable ladies noone would suspect. The female agents investigate mysteries with unusual tools and methodes (I really enjoyed reading about the new discoveries and scientific methodes Gabrielle was using, it was like a Victorian CSI :-) ) and have quite steampunk like accessories (pistols hidden in parasols, little daggers in gloves, etc.).

My problem with the story stemmed from the glaring historical inaccuracies Dangerous Charade was full with. When I'm reading a story set back in time, I'm not looking for reading documentary-like accuracy, but in Dangerous Charade the untruthful details were such that they jarred me out of the story. I could go on but here are just a few:

- first of all servants tended to be, or at least tended to appear loyal towards their masters and would never have dreamed of discussing their master's private business with a freshly arrived newcomer, the next day of her arrival;

- the servants would never refer to the master and his family by their Christian name, this would show complete lack of respect, it simply wasn't done (and yet the housekeeper and the nanny refer to the deceased mistress of the house as "Isabel" and never "Lady Isabel");

- Julian gives an additional task to Gabrielle (whom he employs as his daughter's governess), namely to act as his escort at social events: 
"You will accompany me to all social functions I am obligated to attend for business reasons, and stay by my side throughout the entire event. This will give the impression I am off the market."
But back then this would do much more than raise a few eyebrows (which was the reaction some of the characters had in the novel), in reality this would have made it clear to society that Gabrielle was his mistress, and even if that were the case a gentleman never displayed his "indiscretions" and his mistress in such a blatantly insulting way. And of course no gentlewoman of good breeding (which Gabrielle is) would accept such a proposition...

- besides the complete lack of correct form of address, the language of the novel was also full of modern (and American) vocabulary:
“But I’ve noticed you seem to be particularly interested in him. You wouldn’t have a little crush on Julian, now, would you?”
The main characters Gabrielle and Julian were nice and could have been more interesting if they were more developed. The attraction and love between them happened quite suddenly without much development. Unfortunately the secondary characters remained one dimensional and lukewarm.

Verdict: I was very much looking forward to the unique combination and great story the premise of Dangerous Charade led me to expect, but the jarring modern behaviour and words of the characters discredited Dangerous Charade as a historical story. The initial idea was great but the execution could have been better developed.

Plot: 4/10
Characters: 3/10
Writing: 3/10
Ending: 2/10
Cover: 6/10

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